SXSW: Persuasion and Habit Formation

I sat through an engaging SXSW workshop titled “Psychological Architectures for Persuasive Tech.” The workshop introduced a few key concepts of persuasion, influence,  and how to help people build habits.

The presenter, Brian Cugelman Ph.D, walked us through what he calls the Interactive Influence Model. This model was informed by Robert Cialdini’s popular book, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” What was interesting about Cugelman’s work is that he used communication design to represent how persuasive messages are shared between different actors. He also developed a process by which he deconstructs the persuasive messaging used in a user interface.

What I appreciated most about the workshop was how Cugelman reframed persuasion, which, at times, is a euphemism for manipulation. Instead of focusing on manipulation, the discussion focused on using persuasion as a catalyst for meaningful behavior change.

In order for behavior change to set in, new habits have to be formed. There’s a common belief in HCI circles that it takes about 3 weeks to form new habits. Cugelman debunked this as myth – it takes about 66 days to really form new habits, which is a great starting point when designing, say, a fitness mobile application that helps users achieve their goals.

From an experience design standpoint, the workshop was a helpful reminder of how much amazing research is done in academia and how we can better incorporate it when creating digital experiences.

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